The US continues to develop its military budget for the next FY2022. In recent weeks, the issue of spending on the development of the air force and the renewal of the aircraft fleet has been actively discussed at various levels. The Pentagon comes up with bold proposals that, however, do not find support among lawmakers. The main reason for criticism against him was the proposal to decommission a large number of aircraft.
Withdraw and replace
Currently, the US Air Force is armed with fighters of seven models and modifications, and some of this technology is of considerable age. In mid-January, a spokesman for the Air Force headquarters said that the average age of the aircraft exceeded 28 years. 44% of machines last longer than their designated service life, and the operating costs of the existing fleet are growing twice as fast as inflation, which is directly related to the physical obsolescence of equipment.
It is proposed to solve such problems in the simplest way. It is necessary to decommission the oldest equipment, the further use of which is unprofitable and impractical. Aircraft in an acceptable condition will be sent for long-term storage, and those that have exhausted their resource can be recycled. In parallel, it is necessary to purchase promising tactical aircraft with high tactical, technical and operational characteristics.
A plan for such a modernization of the park was presented. It provides for the decommissioning of 421 aircraft of a number of types by the end of FY2026. To replace them, 304 new machines should be ordered. First of all, it is planned to reduce the long-obsolete F-15C / D - all 230 plus. It is also necessary to decommission 124 F-16 fighters of the first modifications and series. The fleet of A-10 attack aircraft will have to be reduced by 63 units. The possibility of reducing other categories of aviation was considered.
More than 180 available F-22 fighters will remain in service for now; their fate will be decided only by the beginning of the thirties. The fleet of newer F-35s will gradually grow, and by 2026 the Air Force wants to have 220 such aircraft. Full-scale production of the new F-15EX will be mastered, which will produce 84 more fighters. Aircraft of other models will remain in service and undergo scheduled repairs.
As a result of such processes, the total number of tactical aircraft will be reduced by almost 120 units. In addition, instead of seven types, no more than four or five will remain in operation. At the same time, it will be possible to maintain the required combat capability, as well as reduce operating costs - and use the saved money on new programs.
In the long term, after 2026, new cuts are possible. The Air Force hopes that during this period, the replacement of old aircraft will be carried out at the expense of promising next-generation NGAD fighters. They plan to pay for ongoing work under this program, incl. by saving on outdated equipment.
Plans for the year
At the end of May, the main proposals of the Ministry of the Air Force for the next financial year, included in the draft military budget, became known. They are broadly in line with previously announced ideas, with almost half of all proposed cuts in 2022. In just a year, it is proposed to decommission 206 aircraft of various types, not only tactical aviation.
F-15C / D and F-16C / D may undergo the largest reductions next year - 48 and 47 aircraft, respectively. Also, 42 A-10 attack aircraft can be sent for storage. Together with them, they want to write off 20 RQ-4 UAVs, 28 KC-10 and KC-135 tanker aircraft, as well as 13 C-130H transport aircraft and four E-8 air command posts.
To compensate for the "losses" of tactical aviation, the Air Force wants to buy 48 F-35A fighters for $ 4.5 billion and 12 F-15EX for $ 1.3 billion. Plans for the newest KC-46 tankers have been increased to 14 units, which will cost 2.4 billion.
In general, the draft budget required $ 156.3 billion for the needs of the Air Force. This is 2.3 billion more than allocated in the current financial year. It is planned to spend 63.2 billion dollars on operation and maintenance of equipment - almost 2.5 billion dollars more than in 2021. However, by reducing the fleet of obsolete aircraft, it is planned to optimize costs and receive some savings. According to current estimates, it will reach $ 1.3 billion.
The released funds can be used in other programs, incl. when developing a promising NGAD aircraft. FY2021 the Air Force will spend $ 902 million on this project. A budget of $ 1.52 billion is proposed for next year. The NGAD program is also funded by the navy, but their contribution in FY2022 is $ 1.99 billion. classified.
To get approval
The Air Force's draft budget must go through the necessary audits and be approved by Congress. The latter is likely to be in trouble. According to the American media, lawmakers have already criticized the draft military budget in general and plans to modernize the Air Force in particular.
First of all, dissatisfaction was caused by the very proposal to reduce the fleet of combat aircraft. Congressmen always treat such ideas badly, even if they are forced or provide some benefit. A separate reason for criticism is the "attempt" on the A-10 attack aircraft, which have a lot of supporters at all levels. Several years ago, the Air Force already tried to get rid of such technology in favor of modern machines, but then it was not possible to do this - due to new problems and pressure from Congress.
In the near future, Congress will have to consider all the articles of the new military budget, make and agree with the Pentagon on amendments, and then adopt it. How and to what extent the real budget will differ from the presented project will become known later.
Challenges and responses to them
According to open data, the active US Air Force fleet now includes approx. 1800 fighter-bombers and attack aircraft of various types. This makes American tactical aircraft the most numerous and powerful in the world. At the same time, the latest 5th generation F-35A fighters and the outdated F-15C / D are in service at the same time. As a result, the Pentagon faces operational, financial and organizational challenges.
It is obvious that the existing problems require an early and complete solution. It is necessary to get rid of old and unprofitable aircraft and replace them with modern technology, as well as prepare for the future acceptance of the next generation of technology. This is exactly what the Air Force Command, the Air Department and the Pentagon are proposing. However, such ideas have not yet received clear support.
It seems that in recent years the rate of decommissioning of old equipment has been insufficient. Because of this, an excessive number of obsolete aircraft have accumulated in the troops, the operation of which takes extra money. Sooner or later, you will have to get rid of them, and you should not delay the solution of this issue. If 200 aircraft are not decommissioned in FY2022, then more aircraft will have to be phased out during 2023 - and the outrage will be even louder.
The Congress will have to face objective problems and pay more attention not to the "losses" of tactical aviation in the near future, but to the processes of its further development. So, modern F-15EX in all respects are much better and more profitable than the outdated F-15C / D - and the gain in quality fully compensates for the reduction in the number of vehicles. At the same time, there is a special case with the A-10 attack aircraft, which have no direct replacement.
Time of choice
Thus, the US Air Force finds itself in a rather difficult situation that limits their capabilities and prospects. However, there are several ways out of it, each of which has its own advantages. In one case, it will be possible to redirect money to other purposes, while the other will allow maintaining a record number of military aircraft.
The Pentagon is now drafting a budget for the next fiscal year, as well as making plans for a longer period. Which of these plans will be accepted for implementation depends on Congress. In the coming months, the military and lawmakers will have to form and approve the final version of the military budget. And after that it will become known exactly how the Air Force will develop in the coming years.